The three Wessex League targets Horndean reached in 2021/22 – and two new club records for good measure

Michael Birmingham has revealed Horndean hit all three of their 2021/22 targets - even though a Wessex League title challenge petered out.

By Simon Carter
Monday, 9th May 2022, 4:20 pm

The Deans led the Premier Division for many weeks but eventually finished 16 points behind Hamworthy United in fourth place.

However, they were only seven points adrift of Bashley, who finished second and also won automatic promotion to the Southern League due to their points-per-game record.

‘We had three targets,’ said Birmingham. ‘The first was to get more points in the PO derbies than anyone else, and we did - we got 23 out of 30.

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Horndean boss Michael Birmingham Picture: Neil Marshall

‘The second was to finish as the highest-placed PO club and the third was to set a new club points record.’

Doubles over Baffins and US Portsmouth, plus wins against Moneyfields, Portchester and Fareham, saw the Deans top the PO derby table. Their only loss was a 5-1 home caning by Fareham.

Positionally, they finished 11 points and three places above Portchester while their 83-point haul (from 40 games) beat the previous best of 79 (42-game season) in 2017/18. It was also nine points more (from two extra matches) than when Horndean finished runners-up to Sholing in 2018/19.

In addition, Horndean’s 116-goal tally was another Wessex club record - as was the fact they only conceded 43 goals.

The 2021/22 campaign was Birmingham’s sixth in charge at Five Heads Park, though only four have been completed due to Covid. In three of those, Horndean have finished as the highest-placed PO club.

Last month, Birmingham took charge of his 200th Wessex League match as Deans manager. Currently, he is the longest serving boss of any PO Wessex club.

Wilkinson said Birmingham was a ‘classic example of someone I don’t want to be’ in spending years at one club without promotion or cup success.

He also namechecked Pat McManus, who last November took charge of his 400th competitive Brockenhurst game.

Admitting he was impatient for promotion, Wilkinson said he ‘probably wanted it more than the club (Baffins) did.’

Birmingham, obviously, has a different view. ‘I don’t like it when people talk about having a two-year plan to win promotion. It’s not that easy,’ he remarked.

‘This season you had Dave Carter coming into Portchester with all his Southern League experience. They were flying at the end of the season.

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‘Hamworthy only lost one game all season and reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase, Shaftesbury have a budget for the league above, Bashley are a massive club, Moneyfields signed most of the US Portsmouth side that had reached the FA Vase semi-finals.

‘You could get Portchester away first game (of the season) and lose, Stoneham at home and lose … all of a sudden you change your (managerial) approach, you start to get agitated, that’s when ill-discipline can occur and that can carry over to the players.

‘That’s when people crack, that’s when weakness shows.

‘It’s not the be all and end all. Life’s too short.

‘I still wake up every Tuesday and Thursday buzzing for training and on a Saturday buzzing for a game.

‘The day I lose that buzz is the day I walk away.

‘I enjoy seeing players trying to improve themselves, showing some desire.’

Wilkinson’s Baffins career ended with the club winning just three of their final 17 Wessex games. Prior to ending the season by beating Hamble, Rovers had picked up just nine points from a possible 48.

‘Baffins took nine points from 48? At the end of the day, no-one died,’ remarked Birmingham.

‘Shaun’s always been a winner but because of all the games Baffins lost, that would have been difficult for him to accept.

‘But the best clubs in the world go through bad stages, let alone clubs at our level. Barcelona are going through one. That’s part and parcel of football.

‘You have to accept losing before you can become a good winner, otherwise you’ll be headbutting brick walls everyday.’

Though promotion to the Southern League is viewed by some PO Wessex clubs as the Holy Grail, it would come with a financial caveat.

‘I hear people saying ‘we want to go up, we want to go up’, but is everything in place to go up?’ Birmingham asked.

‘If you go up (to the Southern League), you’re looking at a £40,000 budget - £1,000 a week - just to stay up.’